Pinpointing where Guild Wars 2 lost me

gw018Yesterday during the poll I put up, Wollydub asked me, “I’d be really interested in a blog or column about why GW2 fell completely out of favor with you. Not even a mention here. I am in the same boat. I can’t put my finger on it to put it into words though like maybe you can.”

Following a post I made a couple of weeks ago about parting ways with Guild Wars 2, I had very little intention of writing about the game unless I returned to it. I don’t want to get into that state where you’re a bit burned out and negative about a game and having nothing upbeat to say at all. I’d rather step away and see if the feeling comes back, allowing for a potential re-entry that rekindles better emotions.

But hey, since Woolly asked and I’m a little starved for post ideas today, why not?

Here’s the weird thing about this topic: I have extraordinarily positive things to say about Guild Wars 2. I can’t deny that I really enjoyed my time playing it, that it has a very casual-friendly approach, that it’s beautiful or has a stellar soundtrack, that the classes and combat drew me in, and that there’s always something to do. After all, I played for almost two years, so there must have been some pull going on. I’m not that much of a masochist.

So where did it lose me? As with many trends in life, it wasn’t one thing but a death from a thousand cuts.

First of all, there’s the spectre of burnout that looms larger the longer one plays an MMO. It doesn’t always happen and doesn’t always stick to a timetable, but I’d easily say that every successive year in a game, the chances of having my interest plummet increases unless the game does something to replenish that interest.

And that’s maybe where Guild Wars 2 failed for me. Even with all of its feature packs and living world updates, so little of that got me personally excited. The story very rarely engaged me, which was always frustrating because I could see that it was extensively written and there was tons of lore, etc. But the characters were largely a snoozefest and as season two went on, it felt like a trudge through setpieces that looked pretty and were as annoying as possible to finish.

That’s another thing: the tougher fights started to get to me. There are fun challenging fights and then there are fights were plants are vomiting red circles everywhere, knocking me down, and rendering melee all but useless. Remember that missions where you were Caithe fighting those centaurs? That took me so dang long with numerous deaths that I started to wonder if I’d ever see the end of the mission. When at least two-thirds of your game is combat, then that combat better hold up. I felt it starting to crumble.

I guess the final straw — again, for now — of my interest is that Heart of Thorns is heading off in a direction that quite frankly bores me. The new class is not a huge draw and I haven’t seen any “must have” elite specialization reveals yet. Guild halls? Wake me up when there’s real personal housing, thanks. Guild housing has never, ever gotten me excited about playing MMOs, especially when it comes instead of individual houses (City of Heroes, Neverwinter).

But seriously, the devs could not have turned me off more when they announced that we were getting even more of the jungle motif (I’ve yet to see bloggers rave about the decision to go with this) and even more platforming and even more grinding. Platforming in Guild Wars 2 is not the game’s strength, but ArenaNet obviously believes in it, because the studio has crammed it in everywhere, increasing it in frequency with the more recent zones.

I guess that’s about it. I don’t care what’s coming next in the story. I’m not enjoying the current design direction of the game. And there’s no “must do” goals that I want to keep pursuing. So I’ll be content to let the game be and see if my interest ever returns. Heaven knows that there are enough other games right now that are yammering for my attention, so I don’t feel a great void from putting this MMO down.

Guild Wars 2, I think this is where we part ways

standardEver since the initial announcement of Guild Wars 2’s first expansion, Heart of Thorns, I’ve been very much on the fence about it all. Little of the subsequent reveals interested me — elite specializations, masteries, the new class, and especially Super Platformy Jungle Zones. I have a history with the game and an appreciation for its casual playstyle and gorgeous art, but the longer I’m away, the less enticing it’s becoming to go back.

Last night ArenaNet revealed the pricing for the expansion and invited players to pay now for content they’re not going to get for… months, probably. Pre-ordering is one thing, but pre-purchasing, well, I’ve got to want that so bad I can taste it.

Lots of hubbabaloo over the pricing for the expansion, which begins at full-game-cost $50 and jumps up to $100 if you want some extras and a half-off deal on gems. $40 is my usual acceptance limit for expansions, although it fluctuates with my interest level. Right now the price for Heart of Thorns is about $20-$30 more than I’m willing to pay.

However, that’s not to say that this is scandalous pricing. Fifty bucks is fair for a game that hasn’t charged a sub and operates under a pay-once-play-forever policy. I agree with those who say that even the standard edition should come with an extra character slot to accomodate the new class, but apart from that? Fine. It’s less than four months’ subscription to WoW or WildStar or FFXIV.

There’s also the issue of bungled communication over this announcement, particularly in how the expansion comes bundled with the core game — a week or two after Anet had been pushing oh-so-hard to sell the core game at a discount. Refunds or discounts need to happen here. And calling it a “prepurchase launch”? Oh come ON. That’s intentionally confusing and PR speak to the highest degree. It’s all created a bit of a mess when this announcement should be nothing but excitement among fans.

Ultimately, I feel like it’s time to get off the fence part ways with Guild Wars 2, at least for now. There’s lots of other games that I’m far more interested in, and I haven’t really played GW2 for months and months now. I don’t want to pay a big chunk of money for an expansion that has little for me and will probably send me into a terminal case of the grumpies. So I’m bowing out and letting everyone who’s excited have their time of joy without my additional commentary.

Dear developers: Give me a backstory already!

fa1One of the more brilliant aspects of Fallout 3 was the decision to merge the tutorial and character creation process into a sequence in which you got to see your character grow from a toddler to a young adult living in the Vault.

In System Shock 2, a similar decision is made to eschew boring character creation slideshow screens for a more interactive process involving your character going through multiple years of military service, making choices along the way that would shape him.

In Fable, one of the touted aspects was being able to watch your character grow from childhood to adulthood. While, like many of that game’s hyped-but-disappointing features, it was boiled down to a short bit as a kid, at least there was that.

In many other CRPGs, such as Arcanum and the newer Pillars of Eternity, developers allowed players to select a backstory from a menu that not only included a description of one’s upbringing and region, but various advantages and disadvantages that would affect gameplay.

In all of these examples, by the time I entered the game world proper, I felt as though I knew who my character was and became more connected to him or her. The story of their life already began, and I was continuing it.

So why don’t we see that in MMOs? Am I the only one who gets disappointed with the status quo of having a level 1 character pop out of the void with no back history whatsoever, save for what I imagine? With no explanation as to how I got there, what my motivation is, or who I am past my chosen class and face?

To my recollection, only Guild Wars 2 has made any effort to integrate a backstory into the character creation process. And even here, it’s more presented as a series of choose-your-own-adventure decisions that will marginally affect your storyline. Still, I appreciated how by the time the game starts and there’s the introductory cutscene that sums up all of these choices into “my story,” I have become grounded in who my character is.

Even Star Wars: The Old Republic, with it’s much vaunted story pillar, has no story for your character past where he or she first appears. I have no idea how my Smuggler got her ship or got into that racket. I don’t know what my Imperial Agent went through in her spy training. I don’t know why my character gravitated to the Empire or the Republic. I just came into being, ex nihilo, along side all of the other freshly minted clones.

Am I being lazy, asking the developers to do the work that my imagination could supply? No, I don’t think so. These are roleplaying games that involve a long-term journey with a character. I want to be in on the ground floor of who that character is. I’d love to “live” — even in an abbreviated form — his or her childhood and early adulthood. I want to know what sets them onto the path that leads them to become a world-traveling adventurer.

The backstory of the CRPG is being lost — has been lost for a while now — in MMORPGs. It’s time to bring it back.

Guild Wars and the big One-Oh

256px-GuildboxIf you haven’t been able to tell by your Twitter feed (assuming you have one), today’s the big 10th anniversary of the original Guild Wars, which came out way back in 2005. This is a sort of bittersweet recognition by many, since ArenaNet has put Guild Wars into maintenance mode for some time now and the collective focus has shifted to the sequel, leaving the original to quietly fade into its autumn years. Compared to the ongoing development of other older MMOs — like WoW, EVE, UO, and EverQuest — this seems a little wrong, somehow.

My 2005-era Guild Wars tale is probably less thrilling and sentimental than those you’ll find from true fans. I did pick up a copy that April (which was right after my wedding, so there’s another big 10-year anniversary) and was intrigued by the buy-to-play model, which was unheard-of at the time for online RPGs. I remember the art style and the music being absolutely breathtaking — so well done, in fact, that it even holds up today. And the idea of mix-and-matching classes and collecting skills was pretty cool.

But Guild Wars never gripped me the way I saw it do to others, probably because I was firmly in the claws of World of Warcraft at the time and was a little disappointed as why this game felt smaller and the loot insignificant in comparison. The mission system also confused me (at the time) and I couldn’t quite get the hang of grouping up with others to progress. So it wasn’t before long that Guild Wars got shelved, although I’d take half-hearted stabs at it throughout the years.

It was only really when Guild Wars 2 was announced and the whole Hall of Monuments tie-in revealed that I got enough determination to see the game through its campaign, if only to secure a few goodies for the sequel. My guild was immensely helpful in propelling me through some of the tougher missions, and I was able to walk away from the game having gone through all three campaigns’ storylines.

And while today I still feel very much like an outsider to the whole ArenaNet/Guild Wars community, I can appreciate the artistry and business saavy that powers this franchise and the passion that it imbues among fans. So happy 10 years, Guild Wars! Enjoy your well-earned retirement.

Guild Wars 2: We now pause for this brief intermission

end2Let me tell you, I could get used to this “wrapping up games” approach to playing MMOs. Two days of buckling down in Guild Wars 2 rewarded me with getting my Ranger through the last four chapters of season 2. With its conclusion, I feel quite content parking my character until Heart of Thorns comes out. Sure, I’ve got world completion to do, but I’d rather save that for when it might be earning me mastery points as well.

So. Season 2. I think most players would agree with me when I say that it was a step in the right direction after the weirdly fragmented season 1. There was a story that progressed, two new zones added, and a few interesting (but not genuinely compelling) mechanics added. The rewards were good, including the carapace armor and a free Black Lion chest key (which got me one of the new rare dyes). There was good use of secondary character development and a few good twists that I didn’t see coming.

end1Yet for all of that, season 2 wasn’t fun. It’s probably why I’ve been dragging my feet so long on completing it, because I felt as though I had to instead of wanted to. If I had to sum up my biggest complaints into a short list, it would be this:

  1. It was a small story that was spread over too much territory. Even worse, it only served to gap the end of season 1 with the start of the expansion, so there wasn’t any strong resolution.
  2. Fighting plant-based creatures sucks. Oh yes, please knock me down again. Please vomit an endless stream of red circles. Let me whack away at a vine and not get the eerie feeling as though I’m playing some sort of aggressive gardening simulator.
  3. While new zones are appreciated, neither of them were visually appealing and exciting to explore. Plus, the less said about GW2’s fixation with platforming, the better.

Again, I feel that Guild Wars 2’s narrative strength is in telling smaller, personal stories, such as with the earlier quests of the personal storyline or the occasional well-done event. I saw flashes of this in season 2 — the noble party, a character’s death, the reprise of Guild Wars 1’s ascension quest — but most of the run assumed that we’d be in awe of the return of the plant dragon and content to see things play out on a huge scale. At least for me, the larger it got, the more disconnected I felt. A big attack on the Pact’s base wasn’t a goosebump-raising moment but a tiresome slog through a slowly scripted encounter.

At least my distaste for the plant elves is warranted. I’ve seen some people a little irked that the Sylvari keep coming up as primary characters and villains, but really as long as ArenaNet’s going to continue on with the plant motif, that’s going to happen. Maybe the expansion will wrap up this focus and finally move us on to something else.

I ended up abandoning my longbow in favor of a shortbow for most encounters. Actually, I would have preferred to stick with my greatsword, but many fights seemed to favor a ranged approach due to nasty red circles and the necessity to strafe. Still, I’m looking forward to having a staff with the expansion, and I hope that it doesn’t take too much work to get to that point.

At least season 2 is done and that’s one more thing off my plate. Onward and upward!

GW2: A feather in my hair

outfitMy Guild Wars 2 focus has shifted back to my Ranger — I think it’s the thought of having a staff-fighting druid in the expansion that’s the big appeal, as well as my fondness for my pet pig named Monkey. Unfortunately, Dawnbreak Wild needs some work; she didn’t have her ascended trinkets/necklace yet, so that was a trip to the laurel vendor to spend my growing horde of tokens.

One of the things that bugs me about medium armor-wearing classes in GW2 is the weird trenchcoat fetish that ArenaNet has. Practically every chest piece is a coat of some kind, and frankly I wanted just a normal shirt/pants combo. The above was the closest I could get, which actually ended up pretty cool since I could show off my bodacious tattoos.

She has a bunch of world exploration left to do, but that’s on the backburner until I can get her through season 2. I’ve been trying to make it a priority to at least get her through a single mission every day as of late, trying to catch her up to and then surprass my Necro’s progress. This is hampered by my growing weariness of the season 2 storyline, but oh well, this too shall pass.

Yesterday’s patch was a pleasant quality-of-life update. Yay for the first-person camera view for screenshots, although why ArenaNet still felt it was necessary to only make it accessible via a checkable option (that comes with a dire tooltip warning, natch) instead of just putting it in the game like every other MMO out there, I have no idea. It kind of feels like they put it into the game grudgingly instead of happily, but that’s probably reading into it a little much.

I was disappointed to see that my Engineer didn’t end up with 100% world completion after the patch, even with the change to WvW. I was sure I had completed every zone (and had received rewards as such), but my progress in a few of them has been dinged down to 99% or 98% as new points of interest or hearts have popped up. Don’t know what that’s about, but I guess it’s not too much of a hassle.

It IS super-nice that now you can hover your cursor over the map icons to see where all of the unexplored/unfinished objectives are — that helps tremendously, and will be a great boon when my Ranger gets back to world exploration. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be perfectly working; sometimes it’ll flash unexplored ones, sometimes it tells you to go talk to a scout, sometimes… nothing.

worldFinally. You can’t make me do WvW, not now, not ever.